Thursday, October 7, 2010

Class at Women's Retreat

Things were so busy at my beginner watercolor class at Camp Pinnacle over the last weekend that I never had the opportunity to take any photographs of the ladies at work. But here they are at the end, each holding the two completed paintings (to see a larger image, click on the photograph).

Etta Mae (from left), Shirlene, Cindy, and Becky tackled multiple projects over the three days. On the first evening, we went over basic materials, and discussed watercolor paper, paints and brushes. They also completed some basic exercises: flat washes, graded washes, wet into wet, glazing, etc., to get a feel for the medium and for the proper consistency of their paint and water mixture.

They also had some fun with completing background foliage exercises, a matter of wetting paper and then dropping pigment to create spreading blossoms. With a hard edge along the bottom, the blooms easily transform into clumps of trees and bushes with spreading branches.

The next morning, we set to work on color mixing. The landscape the four were tasked with involved only two pigments: French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. I explained how the two colors were complementary, and how that created possibilities for chromatic shifts between the two, with the middle neutral as a critical component of the painting.

The wet-into-wet foliage exercises from the evening before were quickly put into use, and more wet-into-wet work defined the winter pasture and hill surrounding what would become an old, white farmhouse. Careful application of the mixed neutral from the two pigments developed the house's shadows and created its form.

The large pine tree to the side of the house caused some consternation. In the example painting I had done prior to the class, I had fussed over the tree and tried to develop more detail than was necessary in its branches. The tree is secondary to the house in the composition, but my decades-long struggle with creating realistic tree shapes got the better of me.

That fussiness quickly was emulated by the students. I tried to explain that they did not need to replicate what I had done with the tree, and in fact many of their early, loose washes were superior to mine, but they could not help themselves either. I think we finally found a happy medium for everyone, but it was a lesson for me in creating class demonstrations in the future.

With the detail in the house complete, the group took on the foreground areas, and created the fence line and the long cast shadows from the setting sun.

And after that long day, I decided they all needed a break. We were going to face a troublesome project in the morning: a still life that depended on smooth graded washes to create the curvature of a round crock, but I could not expect them to dive into that after struggling with and then succeeding in their landscapes.

We quickly rushed into the project early Sunday morning. I switched the paper to 140# Arches, cold press, for this project (the landscape was on Canson's Montval, cold press) because I knew the Arches could handle the attempts at smooth, graded washes better than the heavily sized Montval could.

We used the same two colors for the gray crock and added a touch of raw sienna to the palette just to create the soft bounced light on the shadowed side of the crock. For this project the group also used a reference photo to guide their work. I had painting an example painting beforehand, but it incorporated an egg into the composition's foreground, so it was not an accurate example of their subject.

We rushed into our washes, constantly switched on the hairdryer to quickly dry damp areas, and completed the pieces just in time. In many ways this was a much harder project than the landscape because the touch needed to get smooth gradients is so critical to the creation of rounded forms, but the ladies did very well with a difficult task.

In the end, I think everyone was pleased with what they had learned.

I also hope that they want to wade in watercolor a bit more.

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